The four-day, seven-city whistle stop type tour will begin Sunday in Rome, then in whirlwind fashion hit Dalton, Columbus and Valdosta on Monday; Brunswick and Augusta on Tuesday; and Cobb McCollum Airport on Wednesday. The caucus advisory says the Republican leaders and others will “address groups of local officials, business leaders, constituents and the media.”
Whatever the accomplishments in the last session of the Legislature, they will not include ethics reform, in particular proposals to put a limit on gifts by lobbyists to legislators. That’s been ruled out by Speaker Ralston, who says it’s sufficient to report all gifts, leaving it up to constituents to do their own research.
With lobbyists shelling out an average $9,525 per day on legislators in the 2012 session — including more than $17,000 in sports and other entertainment — support for reform is growing. There’s a push by several organizations to persuade legislators to back a $100 limit, and at last count, about 70 members of the General Assembly had signed on to that proposal, among them several Senate GOP heavyweights including Majority Leader Chip Rogers. Here in Cobb, most of the 38 incumbents and challengers for legislative seats took the $100 pledge.
The heat is being applied to the feet of our lawmakers by a coalition that includes the Georgia Tea Party Patriots, Georgia Conservatives in Action and Common Cause Georgia. You would think that these groups would carry considerable weight with legislators across the state. We shall see.
But as has been pointed out here, a $100 limit is not the solution to the problem of lobbyists plying legislators with all manner of gifts — with the sky being the limit. The bills proposed so far would not set a limit per activity, meaning that a lobbyist could wine and dine, give tickets to sporting events, etc., costing $100 several times a day or say 10 times a week. It would just be a matter of increasing the frequency of the gifts to keep the legislative good will flowing to the lobbyists.
Georgia voters should ask why their duly elected legislators, each paid a salary of $17,342 plus $173 daily expense money, are allowed to accept any gifts from lobbyists who thus gain an advantage that the average constituent does not have. And it defies common sense for such tax-funded entities as the Georgia World Congress Center, the University System and the Board of Regents to spend nearly a quarter-million in tax dollars lobbying legislators paid by tax dollars to do their job for the people.
The agenda to be unveiled by the House Republican leadership next week should include a pledge to limit gifts from lobbyists — to zero.